I’m Rachael, certified Netflix binger, beer pong fan, and one of the website guru’s at STA Travel. I recently got back from an Asia trip – and by recently I mean 6 months ago, but I’m in denial. Of the places I visited, I spent 6 weeks in Thailand. As well as eating my body weight in curry and 7-Eleven toasties (if you know, you know) I’d like to think I got to know the place pretty well, so this is what I’d tell travellers to do on a 8 day/7 night trip.
Fly in to Bangkok, because that’s probably the easiest and cheapest to get to. I spent three weeks in Bangkok (not because I’m crazy, I did a volunteering job) so I’ve done a lot there. You could either spend the day visiting amazing buildings like the Wat Pho/Wat Arun temple and the Grand Palace – all beautiful and worth a look, or if you’re more about the markets, head to one of the many floating markets around the city. We decided to get in a taxi and drive to Talin Chan and Khlong Lat Mayom, which were both really close to each other – we preferred the second one as it had much more of an authentic feel to it (the first one was very touristy).
When you’re ready to eat, head to Rambuttri, which is a really long street full of restaurants and street food stalls. I’m an advocate of budget travelling, so most of the time I’d go for a Phad Thai at a stall for 40 baht ($1.17!) or a banana and Nutella roti for 30… I ate way more of these than I care to admit. After you’re done stuffing your face with delightful food, walk one street along to Khao San Road… backpacker central. During the day it’s full of market stalls, but by night it’s all about loud music, happy travellers, buckets of alcohol, and people trying ridiculous delicacies like scorpion. Yes, I was one of those people.
If you’re staying at a hostel, it’s usually pretty easy to organise a day trip to Ayutthaya. It’s located about 50 miles north of Bangkok, and is full of palaces, temples, and monastery ruins. It’s a seriously impressive day out, and definitely something I would recommend. And if you get a good guide you learn loads about the local culture.
Use a website like https://12go.asia/en/travel/bangkok/chiang-mai to book a sleeper train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai… because I’m taking you north! Unfortunately I didn’t end up getting a sleeper train and I really regret it, because I wanted the experience. Don’t ask me why, but sleeping on a bunk on a train sounds like a great night to me!
Drop off your bags at the hostel and get ready for an amazing day with the world’s gentlest giants… elephants. It would be a good idea to pre book your ticket a day or two before, just to make sure there’s availability, and also because you’re short on time. But please make sure you visit a legit Sanctuary, where you know the animals are being well looked after. I visited the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and it was honestly one of the best days of my life. The guy who runs it was telling us that the elephants they care for used to belong to local tribes, and they’d use them for logging and other strenuous work. When we were there we just chilled with the elephants, fed them, got muddy with them (because what better day out is there than rolling around in mud with elephants?!) and then we bathed them – only for them to run back into the mud! We spent a good portion of the day just watching them play about on their own, which also showed that they were being looked after, because we weren’t ‘all up in their grill’ all day, and we were a small group.
Try and make it so that you’re in Chiang Mai on a Sunday so that you can walk to the Old Town Square and visit their night market. It’s absolutely huge, full of incredible street food stalls (go with an empty stomach!) and selling their wares – from classic tacky ornaments all the way through to beautifully hand painted pieces.
Another day, another day trip! This time I’d really recommend going to check out the Wat Rong Khun (aka the White Temple) in Chiang Rai. I wasn’t expecting it to be as weird and wonderful as it was. From pictures, all you see is a magnificently white palace-type temple, but when you get there it’s actually a crazy combination of beautiful designs and messed up installations. It was designed for visitors to reflect on their life of greed and sin before walking over the bridge titled ‘the cycle of rebirth’ – where you are cleansed. The creepy designs are best explained in photos…
The night is yours to enjoy! You could either go to the Night Bazaar, which has a really cute food square lit up by fairy lights (I am an absolute sucker for anything with fairy lights) and live music. Or you could search for some nightlife in the area… we managed to find a really cool pool party in a hostel nearby. The Nimmanheimin Road area is a great place for bars and clubs too – it’s where all the backpackers go!
Organise an early mini bus to take you to Pai, further north. Wherever you’re staying they’ll either be able to arrange it for you or point you in the right direction. It’s about a 3-hour drive, but if you get travel sick – take your meds! It’s a long winding road, which will get the best of you. But Pai is definitely worth it. It’s a beautiful, scenic hippy town surrounded by mountains, fields and full of laid-back people.
Every night there is an amazing food market stocking every cuisine imaginable, right in the town center! There’s also a pretty buzzing nightlife – go where all the backpackers go, which is Yellow Sun Bar… you get performers, lots of UV wall art, UV face paint, and really cool bartenders. Very Bob Marley-esque.
Make sure you rent a scooter to see all of the sights! Me and my travel buddy drove to Pai Canyon (an absolute must), Coffee In Love (which is a cute coffee shop perched high above all of the surrounding fields), Pambok waterfall, and on the way back from the fall we went to the Land Split. The Land Split was the most interesting, because it came about after a farmer lost his income due to a huge split in his land, so he could no longer farm. He decided to make it a tourist destination, and when you arrive he is unbelievably welcoming. We went to check out the split and when we came back he offered us wine and juice that he had made, and food he had grown himself. All you have to do on the way out is leave a little donation.
Chill at your hostel/go check out Circus Hostel if you’re not staying there/go and sample some more nightlife. For a small place it actually has a lot of cool bars and little clubs, my favorite place was this secret garden bar – I’m still not entirely sure of its name, but it was located down the alley next to a stall where a woman braids/dreadlocks your hair (sounds vague, but you’ll know). It’s just a small bar in a garden, and it feels like you’re in a magical forest… literally. Live music, cheap cocktails, and a very hippy vibe.
Organise a bus back to Chiang Mai before you spend the day wandering around Pai. Soak up the chill time, and really take advantage (7 nights in Thailand can take its toll). There’s places for great massages, bars for day drinks, and cute shops where you can buy the obligatory baggy elephant pants.
Welcome back to Chiang Mai! Use this time to walk around and take in the full extent of the town, all of the temples that line the streets, and all of the markets.
It’s time for your train, coach or plane back to Bangkok because you’re ready to go home – or probably not so ready, because you’ve no doubt had an amazing time!
Optional recommended extra:
If you’ve got any extra time I’d recommend getting the train to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok, and staying the night. You’ve got the bridge from ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ movie, and you can also do a trip to Erawan Waterfalls National Park, which I did while I was volunteering in Bangkok. The park has a huge waterfall that falls down seven different tiers, all slightly different. We walked all the way to the top and went down every tier – it was beautiful, and loads of fun jumping around and swimming between the pools. One of them is home to those fish that nip your toes in those foot spas, but they’re slightly bigger (it definitely made me squeal!).